Google Slapped With $200 Million Fine Over Children’s Privacy Violation: Report

Google has agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission investigation amid charges its YouTube subsidiary violated children’s privacy laws by illegally collecting information to target advertising to minors.

According to Politico, the settlement could amount to $150 to $200 million, however, the details of the settlement have yet to be publicly disclosed. The FTC will reportedly announce the settlement in September.

The amount of the settlement is pending approval by the Justice Department.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act outlaws websites from amassing data from children under the age of 13 without parental consent, information including a child’s contact information, birthdate and photos.

FTC took aim at Google after more than 20 consumer advocacy groups filed a complaint with the commission contending the search engine giant was violating federal privacy laws in its exploitation of personal data it collected from children.

Among the advocacy groups is the non-profit, The Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood which charged YouTube with regularly breaching the privacy law.

“We are glad that our advocacy has compelled the FTC to act and finally hold Google accountable for years of COPPA violations,” Josh Golin, CCFC’s executive director, said in a statement on Friday. “However, if the FTC fines Google only $200 million, that’s terribly inadequate. They have allowed YouTube to build a children’s media empire through illegal means that now, no one can compete with; all for the cost of a fine which is the equivalent of two to three months of YouTube ad revenue. They should levy a fine which both levels the playing field, and serves as a deterrent to future COPPA violations. This fine would do neither.”

The FTC’s settlement with Google comes after the commission announced a $5 billion fine in July against Facebook for abusing its user’s personal data.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) warns the penalty is not severe enough, arguing Silicon Valley’s egregious privacy violations deserve more overwatch from federal regulators.

The FTC “appears to have let YouTube off the hook for violating users’ privacy online. And in this case, Google’s intrusions on kids’ personal info are at issue. We must come down hard on companies that infringe on children’s privacy,” Markey said in a statement.

“I look forward to reviewing the requirements placed upon Google in this settlement, but I am disappointed that the Commission appears poised to once again come out with a partisan settlement that falls short of the Commission’s responsibility to consumers and risks normalizing corporate bad behavior,” he added.

The commission’s settlement with Google entails a larger fine than previous settlements with the tech giant. In 2012, FTC charged Google with violating its consent order by misleading users of Apple’s Safari browser about its data mining practices and subsequently agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine.

In February, YouTube came under fire amid complaints proving the video sharing platform failed to prevent pedophiles from leaving lewd comments on videos intended for children 13 and younger.  

A video published on YouTube titled, “YouTube is Facilitating the Sexual Exploitation of Children, and it’s Being Monetized,” documents pedophiles utilizing the comments on videos, featuring children doing yoga, doing gymnastics, playing Twister and eating popsicles, to guide other predators. In addition to making sexual statements, the predatory commenters posted time stamps linking to instances in videos that appeared suggestive when paused, like a little girl’s bare legs or backside.

YouTube responded to the backlash by disabling comments on most videos featuring young children and said it would use a new machine-learning system to identify and remove predators’ comments.

Yet, in June an investigation published by the New York Times documented how YouTube’s recommendation system promoted videos of partially clothed, prepubescent children to users who had watched other videos of young children in suggestive positions.

“Users do not need to look for videos of children to end up watching them. The platform can lead them there through a progression of recommendations,” NYT reported. “So a user who watches erotic videos might be recommended videos of women who become conspicuously younger, and then women who pose provocatively in children’s clothes. Eventually, some users might be presented with videos of girls as young as 5 or 6 wearing bathing suits, or getting dressed or doing a split.”

YouTube is reportedly slated to ban targeted ads from being displayed at content aimed at kids, but it’s unclear whether the plan was put in motion as a result of the FTC multimillion dollar fine.

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